This is Africa, Where Sometimes, We are Shocked & Surprised by Our Ability to Not Screw Things Up.

T.I.A. It means: This Is Africa. It’s what you say when things go wrong, when the centre cannot hold, when a plan falls apart, when your highest hopes are outweighed by your deepest fears.

You say it with a shrug of the shoulders, a sigh, and a shake of the head. What do you expect? What can you do? T.I.A.

The power goes out just as you’re about to start preparing dinner. T.I.A. You hit a pothole as you swerve to avoid a jaywalker. T.I.A. You lose a tender to the nephew or cousin of somebody important. T.I.A. You get stopped at a roadblock, and the cop says he can write out a summons, or you can pay the fine in cash right now. T.I.A.

Bribery, corruption, nepotism, cronyism, inefficiency, incompetence, the collapse of systems, the descent of order into chaos. T.I.A., baby, T.I.A.

You can say it out of bitterness, out of resignation, and even, perversely, out of bravado, as K’naan does on T.I.A.: “Welcome to the Continent of Holidays,” he sings, “where holidays turn to hell days. T.I.A., hooray, This is Africa.”

But what if we could turn the meaning of that acronym around?

What if we could use it when things go right, when the centre takes hold, when a plan comes together, when our deepest fears are outweighed by our highest hopes? What if we could say “This is Africa!” out of pride, out of joy, out of affirmation, achievement, and self-belief?

In Zurich, Berlin, Sydney, Singapore, or Toronto, nobody blinks twice, nobody feels the need to celebrate, nobody feels a tear welling up in their eye, when trains and busses run on time, when high-speed urban rail networks are launched ahead of schedule, when litter is collected in the streets, when airports are revamped, when flags fly from buildings and cars, when visitors jet in to attend a global event, when they are not mugged or shot at as soon as they wheel their trollies out of the concourse.

In other parts of the world, the default expectation is: Things will work. In Africa, the default expectation is that they won’t. Which is why it can come as a surprise, a jolt to the senses, when we are confronted by our individual and collective ability to not screw things up.

Oh, rest assured, the feeling will not last. It is based on emotion and perceptions, and these have a habit of shifting with the tide. Sometime in the next few weeks or months, you can bet on it, a newspaper will run a leader-page article with the headline: “Whatever Happened to the Spirit of 2010?”

People will be fighting, in Parliament and on the streets, there will be muggings and shootings, there will be strikes and outages and trains not running at all. In the eyes of some, the stadia will begin to look abandoned, weathered and rusting. But don’t let any of that trouble you for now.

The other night, at Soccer City, I saw a South African Policeman, standing with his feet apart, one eye closed, taking aim, his trigger finger cocked, as a group of foreign visitors stood frozen before him. Then he pressed the shutter, and they unfroze their smiles, and he cordially handed them back their point-and-shoot and they thanked him and hurried to the stadium, their faces painted, their vuvuzelas parping in the brisk night air.

My neighbours are an elderly Afrikaans couple, staunchly conservative, forver hankering after the Good Old Days, forever muttering dark thoughts about Zuma and his cronies. But right now, hoisted on their security gate, you will find the biggest Rainbow Flag in the whole neighbourhood.

This is a time of magic. This is a shifting of the seasons, a transition from what was to what can be. The precedents have been set, the benchmarks have been etched in stone. Someday we will look back and say, but we did it then, why can’t we do it again? And somehow we will, because we can, because we must, and most of all, because: T.I.A.

Picture by Stephen J Booth, travelpod.com

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2 comments on “This is Africa, Where Sometimes, We are Shocked & Surprised by Our Ability to Not Screw Things Up.

  1. It’s so true. I once watched Stephen Fry do a demonstration of the difference in meanings when Yankees say “Only in America” compared to when Brits say “Only in Britain”.

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